“From Trump’s first meetings with the Soviets… to his jaw-dropping hire of Paul Manafort… the litany of direct and indirect contacts with the Kremlin exceeds all possible exculpatory explanations…
It is impossible to see the total picture and reach the conclusion that there is an innocent explanation behind it all. There’s simply too much to explain away.”
– Tom Nichols, “What Jonathan Chait Gets Right About Trump and Russia”, Politico
A number of journalists are finally waking up (women like Sarah Kendzior, Leah McElrath and others have been warning us for years) and telling the big story: Putin won the election for Trump who, in one fashion or another, owes him, is afraid of him big time and is doing everything he can to stay on his good side. This is treason.
Jonathan Chait’s piece this week in New York Magazine was the most exhaustive telling, a full run-down of the possibility – the likelihood – that what we’re seeing with the Trump/Russia story is just the tip of a really nasty iceberg, the full betrayal of the United States. Tom Nichols, in the article quoted above, agrees with Chait’s overall premise, while adding the insight that targets of intelligence operations are rarely given direct instructions. More commonly they believe themselves to have autonomy – but are also fearful, knowing that they could be exposed at any time if they were to damage their relationship with their “friend”. Sound like anyone you know?
It’s critical that the TRUE story continue to be told and defended. Merely being willing to march for Mueller if he’s fired isn’t enough, not nearly. We need to stand up for the investigation and the truth every day to counter the lies being told by Trump, Fox and the rest. And we must insist that our Members of Congress do, too.
The importance of this truth was on full display later last week when House Banana Republicans interrogated FBI agent Peter Strzok in what amounted to a day-long Kangaroo Court. The Republicans have been trying every angle they can to discredit Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump/Russia attack on the 2016 election and have fixed on Strzok’s text messages with a colleague during the 2016 campaign to feed their conspiracy theory.
Strzok was part of the team investigating the Russian attack at the time it was unfolding. In one exchange, he responded to his girlfriend’s question, “[Trump's] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!" with: "No. No he won't. We'll stop it.”
Thus, for the Republican propaganda machine, was an entire conspiracy theory born, of a nefarious FBI working to wreck Trump’s glorious presidency*. Finally, last Thursday, they had the public hearing that would allow them to unmask Strzok’s perfidy for all to see. Except.
Strzok took them apart forcefully, clearly and with a ringing defense of the Bureau. Regarding the brief text exchange, he explained the context: that it had happened just following Trump’s vile attack on the mother of a fallen Gold Star hero and that by “we” he had meant the American public, who he felt sure would never elect someone demonstrating such “horrible, disgusting behavior".
Worse for the Republicans, Strzok obliterated their central thesis by noting that the Bureau’s structure and culture made it impossible for any individual in the FBI to take partisan actions – and that the Bureau had kept the investigation secret, according to regulations, which had allowed Trump to win. Don’t expect his testimony to shame or awaken Republicans. They’re lost in the fever of their lies. But Strzok’ heroic defense of the FBI made them appear fools.
Finally, on Friday, Mueller struck again, indicting twelve Russian intelligence officers for hacking the DNC and DCCC computer systems during the 2016 election. The indictment is thorough, detailed (down to who was at a given keyboard and what actions they took) and damning. New information includes the fact that the hacking continued during the summer and fall. Strikingly, the day that Trump had called on Russia to “hack Hillary’s emails”, they had in fact done so hours later. Though no Americans were indicted, the indictment points to several people without naming them, perhaps to put them on notice of what’s to come.
Trump had been informed about the pending indictment before his trip abroad. He continued to insist that Russia was innocent. No, they’re not, not at all. There’s irrefutable proof. They're guilty and, if they step foot in the U.S. will go straight to jail. The same will soon be true of him.
“A Political Animal”
Long, long ago – last Monday – Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace the retiring Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. Dems will fight Kavanaugh’s nomination for many reasons, nearly all of them involving the dismemberment of the liberal state as we know it. Kavanaugh is a star of the far-right judicial farm system and can fairly be counted on to remove rights for women, people of color, LGBTQ folks, working Americans and voters. The question will be whether Democrats will fight hard and stick together, as red state Democratic Senators up for re-election may be wary of opposing him. History suggests that they may have much more to fear in courting conservative voters they can’t win over anyway, while alienating the liberal constituents they need to turn out. In any case, it will take a united Democratic front and two Republicans to defeat his nomination.
An additional and grave concern is that Trump is nominating someone who may well be called upon to render judgement on Trump’s own guilt or, improbably, innocence. At least until Trump is no longer under criminal investigation – or is in jail – he should absolutely not be able to select his own juror. Especially since Kavanaugh’s opinions on presidential power have vacillated wildly, depending on whether it was a Democrat or a Republican he was writing about.
Finally, in the aftermath of Kavanaugh’s nomination it was alleged that Kennedy had retired only after securing Trump’s promise to nominate Kavanaugh, his favorite former clerk. This is just wrong.
“Feed Him to the Corgis”
After doing his damndest to destroy our alliances while meeting with the heads of NATO in Brussels, Trump continued on to London to insult PM Teresa May and to offend the Queen. Tens of thousands turned out in London and around the UK to express their revulsion at him setting foot on their island. We should give him the same welcome when he comes back (if only he wouldn’t). Next stop is Helsinki, where he’ll meet with the man who owns him (though exactly how remains a mystery for the time being). Vladimir Putin.
In Other News
- The administration failed to meet the court-imposed deadline to reunite even the 100 migrant children under five who had been torn away from their parents. Later in the week they claimed to have reunited all whose parents were able or fit to receive them. While there’s a plan in place to reunite the remaining children (five and over), we’ve seen from experience that the process needs careful watching. In addition, there’s always the danger that they’ll start separations again or detain families indefinitely.
- The administration further undermined the Affordable Care Act by cutting its funding to enroll people in plans. Bit by bit they’re destroying through negligence what they couldn’t through legislation. Hold them accountable for the lives they’re endangering.
- Trump pardoned the rancher anti-government terrorists who had seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge back in 2016. Because, he’s anti-government, too.
- Trump continued to expand his trade war, this time levying tariffs on another $200B of Chinese goods. This is going to harm Americans, especially in states that voted for Trump. Wait for it.
- Senate Republicans, overriding the concerns of their Democratic colleagues, confirmed the nomination of Brian Benczkowski to lead the Department of Justice’s criminal division. Benczkowski has no prosecutorial experience. None. What he does have is a background representing Russia’s Alfa Bank, featured prominently in the Steele dossier in relation to Trump’s financial ties to Russia. As bad as it looks? Any reason to think not?
- Friday we discovered that Jared Kushner still lacks the highest level of security clearance, which the CIA evidently doesn’t think he can be trusted with. I’m sure Trump is careful not to share material that Kushner shouldn’t see.
It’s vital that we take back both the House and the Senate from Trump and the Republicans – which also means from Russia. What matters most isn’t how much you do, it’s that you do what you can. Turning our country around can seem a daunting task, but the way that we can and will do it is by enlisting as many people as possible to help. That’s how democracy works: it’s grounded in the power of people, acting in concert. Together we can be an unstoppable force – as special elections in Alabama, Virginia and Pennsylvania have already shown.
– Tom Benthin
A reminder: a key resource for tracking all the abnormal events from the past week of the Trump presidency is Amy Siskind’s Weekly List: theweeklylist.org .
Before the disaster of the 2016 election we could follow the events that affected our lives by checking the news or seeing occasional posts on Facebook. Since then, with Trump’s erratic, aggressive and autocratic behavior and the Republicans’ unceasing attacks on our government and their efforts to transfer ever more money from working Americans to the rich, it has become much more difficult – and more important – to find our way through the weekly onslaught of news. To get ourselves grounded in the facts and to prepare for the week of action ahead, we provide this weekly summary of critical events to help us cut through the distractions and stay focused and informed as we fight to preserve our democracy.